We caught up with Zoe Saldana, who plays Uhura in J.J. Abrams' Star Trek. While she couldn't reveal too much about her work in Trek and James Cameron's Avatar, she did give a little bit of a behind the scenes look into both. Plus she addresses whether the skirts in the new Trek will be shorter than in the original series — and gives us hope that by the end of the year, we could have an Avatar trailer.
Were you a Star Trek fan before the movie?
I did watch a couple of episodes. I followed J.J.'s advice. He said, "If I have to advise you guys at all, I would advise you not to watch [Star Trek]. Just inform yourself of the whole concept of Star Trek, if you're not already a Trekkie or fan. I don't want you to cloud whatever contribution you guys can make yourselves to the role that you are jumping into." I thought that was very encouraging. And then I met Nichelle Nichols and she practically gave me the same advice. So I thought that I needed to make the important aspects about Uhura a priority.
Well, out of the episodes that you did you watch, what were your favorites?
Definitely the episode with Abraham Lincoln [The Savage Curtain] and the episode where Kirk and Uhura have that kiss [Plato's Stepchildren], because of what that kiss represented at the time as well. I spoke to Nichelle about it. She talked about how that work was very dear to her and how they had no idea how big it was going to be. Back then they had no idea that Star Trek was going to be what it is now. They were just artists doing a show that was putting money their pockets, as artists they were working, and they were very grateful to be doing that. She also said as artists, you always live way ahead of your time, so it wasn't a big deal for her. They were aware of what the world was like, but they didn't know it was going to stir up so much.
Where did you build your character from? Did you pull stuff from the script?
Reference pictures, speaking to Nichelle Nichols, talking a lot to J.J. After I met Zach Quinto and Chris Pine, that changed a lot, talking to them. For some reason's Zach's Spock and Chris' Kirk brought out my Uhura. The conversations and sharing the knowledge of Star Trek, it was all really good. And I saw all the physical things that were important about her that the fans need. It was a mix of all of that.
Speaking about what the fans want, what about Nichelle's voice? It's legendary did you work on recreating that at all?
The one thing I can tell you is that I know in my heart that the fans are not going to be disappointed. When they see Star Trek they are going to see all of the characters that they've been in love with. The way the plot is laid out, it's not going to compromise the whole legend of Star Trek. If I did imitate the voice I think J.J. and Nichelle managed to get it out of me with out making me feel like I was stepping on anyone's shoes. Maybe it came out here and there.
Did you meet ahead of time with Chris and Zach ahead of time to build a relationship since the movie is about how everyone met and came together?
Everything went so fast we really didn't have much time and I was shooting Avatar [a little more on that later] and they sort of overlapped. But when we started working, the chemistry was inevitable. It was a great set. Chris and Zach could not have been better cast. I can't even tell you if I met the real Zach or the real Chris, because they were so committed to their character.
Do you feel the pressure form fans and media to deliver?
I think maybe that's why J.J. didn't want us to watch every single episode and go that extensively into the research. He knew that there would be a point when we would confuse the responsibility and turn it into pressure. He wanted us to keep it light and fun. He just kept saying, "just trust me, trust me it's going to be great."
What about the rumors that the skirts in this new Star Trek are shorter than the show? Did you think so, was it hard working in a mini?
I'm actually still waiting for the phone call from Paramount producers saying, "You know what Zoe? That skirt wasn't short enough." After watching the show...those skirts were pretty short. If you made them any shorter, it would be a t-shirt. I think they're going to be happy. But the funny thing is, I don't think we went far enough.
What actor went through the most transition?
I think we all did because at times I would think that it was Zachary turning into Spock. But then Chris Pine would walk onto the set in the morning with his blown out hair doing the Kirk walk. We were all transforming ourselves into these characters.
I what was it like working with all the old cast members, like Leonard Nimoy?
Mind boggling. Leonard is the classiest artist I've ever met, by far. He has such grace and his energy and his approach are amazing. After all these years and he just puts on his Spock shoes and transforms into Spock. When his character comes to life it blew everyone away. When I heard Nichelle was on the set I nearly died. I'm sure for Zach it was the same. You are trusted with this precious stone and you have to babysit and make sure you deliver it properly because it was created way before you. And it's going to be living way after, so you need to deliver. That responsibility was kind of humbling.
Tell me about being a one of the few women on the Enterprise?
I think it's awesome. To be on the Enterprise with all these guys, the message speaks loudly. She's a female, she's of high rank and she has her shit together. And never is it ever about, or was it ever about her female presence. It was pretty great. I loved being the only girl.
How did you prep for your role in Avatar, I heard your role is very intense?
I took marshal arts, archery, horseback riding everything. I did an intense six-month prep for Avatar and I loved every minute of it. I was training non-stop. Because we were creating a language that was from scratch. Jim wrote this amazing story out of nothing. It has an amazing message. And the technology that he's using is so ahead of his time that's why it took so long to shoot it. And it's going to [take] a long time for the film to come out, but it's going to be so worth it. It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had.
How did you get ready for this new technology?
It's about trusting your director. I think with the technology that they decided to use, everybody knows that James Cameron is the biggest perfectionist in this business. I was afraid and we had endless conversations at first. But he just said figure out whatever you need and I did. Because we shot in motion capture and you had to have to create this world in your imagination. He didn't want it to look like I was working in front of a green screen and I didn't want that either. So I worked with what I had and I fell so in love with the story and the characters that it all became very real to me.
What can you tell us about your character, sounds like she's tough?
Given the female characters that James Cameron is known to write, it's just the most impressive ass-kicking girl I've ever played, it's pretty cool.
Is there going to be a lot of war and mayhem?
I'm not going to go into that. The story is very deep, but it's a story that everyone can watch.
Why should people go and see Avatar?
Because Mr. Cameron never ceases to excite. He's always pushing the envelope. I think Avatar is going to represent a lot of change in film history. With motion capture, it's not like shooting green screen. It's deeper it's Beowulf and The Polar Express. But the difference between those films and Avatar is those films were aiming to look like a cartoon. As opposed to Avatar which is aiming to look real. I've seen only three minutes of the film and I can't even put it to words. I can't compare it to anything I've ever seen, because I haven't seen anything like it before. It's going to be just as big as when sound was introduced, or color.
When do you think we might be able to see a trailer for Avatar?
I would say, maybe by the end of this year, but I could be pushing it. So maybe the beginning of next year.
What were you most impressed with on the three minutes that you saw?
I would have to say Jim and what he's done. He's working with Peter Jackson's company Weta in New Zealand and I was down there and I had the honor of meeting all of these people who were working for Weta and I was so blown away. Just Jim, he will not settle for anything other than great. And those three minutes were great, they were beautiful.
Did you get to see what you looked like in Avatar?
Yes I did, all I'm going to say is oh my god, I was so impressed.
This isn't the first time that Zoe has dealt with Star Trek. In the movie The Terminal she played a Trekkie customs worker: